MidWeek Wednesday in Lent (5-2023)
Office of Holy Ministry
Office of Holy Ministry
I heard a story of a pastor who said, as he closed the service, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the . . .”—and then experienced a momentary lapse of memory. He continued, “and the—ah—the friendship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
As he walked to the narthex he remembered, “It’s supposed to be the communion of the Holy Spirit. Well,” he thought to himself, “the Holy Spirit is very friendly, and he brings us our Friend, Jesus, so it’s OK.”
As the pastor greeted people at the door, a dearly loved member with a scowl on his face poked his finger into the pastor’s chest and said, “I’m just amazed. For a person who has all week to practice to get things right for one hour of work, you still mess it up.”
People have different ideas of what the pastor does—“that he has all week to practice for one hour of work.” People draw ideas from human psychology, from business, or the marketplace—all kinds of ideas.
During these Wednesdays in Lent we have been discussing the “Marks of the Church”, or Holy Possessions, as Luther called them. These are things that identify if a Christian Church is truly present. For example, if someone says “Look over there, another Church.” You attend a worship service only to discover that there is no Word read, nor Sermon delivered. That is not the Church.
These last few weeks we have talked about the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Confessions, and today we will talk about the office of holy ministry.
So this evening I want to addresses, What does the office of Holy Ministry all about? on the basis of the Word of God from Eph 4:11–13
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
I’ll point out two essential features of what the pastor does. One, the pastor represents Jesus Christ. Two, the pastor works to build up the body of Christ.
The pastor represents Jesus Christ.
The pastor represents Jesus Christ.
You’ve heard it before—a child sees the pastor dressed in his white robe with a smiling face and outstretched hand, and says, “Look, Mom, there’s Jesus!” Out of the mouths of babes do come truths, for what the child said has truth.
Our text says, “It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be . . .” Jesus created the office of public ministry to represent himself, and he calls men to fill it.
In Lk 6:12–16, Jesus prays all night because he is about to do something of the utmost importance. In the morning he gathers together his larger group of disciples and appoints 12, whom he calls “apostles,” ones he will send to speak his words and do his work in his name. Thus he created the office of public ministry. From that time until today pastors have followed in the apostolic ministry (Acts 1:25). They are sent by God as ones through whom Jesus continues his own ministry.
After his resurrection, in the upper room, Jesus breathed on the 12 disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (Jn 20:22–23).
This passage doesn’t mean that pastors can pick and choose as they please: “I like you, so I forgive your sins; you give me a hard time, so I do not forgive your sins.” On the contrary, Jesus commands his representatives to forgive sins in his name, as he himself would have it be done.
What does the pastor do? In the beginning of the service, after the congregation’s confession of sin, the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” He acts in the place of the great Shepherd of the sheep. And later in worship, in the Service of Holy Communion, when the pastor welcomes you to the Lord’s Table and distributes to you Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, he is again exercising the Office of the Keys as Christ’s representative.
As our text says, “he gave some to be . . .” Jesus created the office, and he gives to the church ministers to fill the office. It is Jesus who acts.
The text identifies different kinds of individuals in the office of the public ministry in the early church.
First, Jesus “gave some to be . . . apostles.” Apostles exercised authority over the whole church and served as the foundation.
Second, Jesus “gave some to be . . . prophets.” Some prophets foretold the future, as did Agabus in Acts 11:28. Generally, however, prophets proclaimed the Law and the Gospel of God to correct, strengthen, encourage, comfort, and edify the church (1 Cor 14:3).
Third, Jesus “gave some to be . . . evangelists.” Evangelists were Gospel-tellers similar to missionaries today, who may go from place to place, bringing Christ to people and planting churches in new areas.
Fourth, Paul says, Jesus “gave some to be . . . pastors and teachers.” These office-bearers generally served a local congregation, where they did the work of pastoring and teaching. The construction of the original Greek here indicates that “pastor” and “teacher” are not two separate, unrelated offices, but two facets of a single office. (While each of the three previous terms, “apostles,” “prophets,” and “evangelists,” is governed by its own article, this phrase has just one article, tous, governing both poimenas and didaskalous.) The office is like a hyphenated phrase, “pastor-teacher.” On a typical Sunday morning, a pastor will serve as leader of the worship service(s) as well as teacher of a Bible study. Teachers in Christian schools, directors of Christian education, ministers of music, ministers of youth, and deacons all serve on behalf of Christ too. They serve as auxiliaries for the office of pastor-teacher since the size of the ministry requires a number of workers.
The Greek word for pastor is poimēn, which literally means “shepherd.” Pastors are under-shepherds of the one Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. You are the flock, the sheep of God. St. Peter (1 Pet 5:1–4) says to pastors, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” Do you think of yourself as a sheep under a pastor who is shepherding, caring, guiding you? When Satan’s arrows strike, or the world deceives, or your flesh leads you into sin, you need caring and nurturing from your pastor. That’s what a pastor does as Christ’s representative.
There is also a responsibility that you have as sheep. St. Paul writes in 1 Thess 5:12, “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.” Do you ever think of the pastor as being “over” you, like a shepherd over the flock?
In Heb 13:17 the writer urges, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Your pastor has to give account to the Lord God himself for what he does with the ministry the Lord gives him.
The pastor/shepherd is also “pastor-teacher.” In the ancient, world most Gentiles grew up in a sea of paganism. They knew nothing of Christianity, Judaism, the covenant with Abraham, or the Law of Sinai. How were they to understand and learn the Christian faith? God appointed the pastor to publicly teach the Word of God: the account of creation and the fall into sin; the long story of God’s people awaiting and preparing for the Messiah; the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the account of his death and resurrection; and the growth and history of the church as the Good News of the forgiveness of sins spread.
What does the pastor do? Your pastor represents Christ as shepherd and teacher.
The text goes on:
To prepare God’s people
To prepare God’s people
for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” Your pastor’s work is to represent Christ so that the body of Christ may grow and mature.
Each of us has a body. We have fingers, arms and ears. We have legs and toes. Every part of our body is important. Look around you. You belong to the body of Christ. Each individual you see is just as important in Christ’s body as every part of your body is important to you, right down to your fingernails.
When you tear a fingernail, you know how painful it is. You might look around and say, “Ah, that person over there is an unimportant fingernail.” But if that person is hurting, the whole body of Christ hurts. Look around—you are the body of Christ.
The pastor’s job is building up the body of Christ by preparing the saints for service.
“Prepare” can have different meanings. Used in a medical sense, it can mean putting broken bones together. Used in government, it can mean getting factions together to move in the same direction. In a military sense, to prepare means to outfit recruits with all the equipment they need. A pastor prepares Christians by equipping them to be servants of Jesus Christ. This can involve healing, reconciling, and outfitting members of the church militant for the spiritual warfare that is part of the Christian life.
What a glorious task it is to build up the body of Christ! But in most settings, the pastor can’t do it alone. That’s why the church, beginning in Acts 6, has said, “Pastor, you need some assistance so you can concentrate on the ministry of the Word and Sacraments.” So deacons were chosen as helpers. Today, many churches have a staff with several ministers. Christian day schools have their faculties. Another form of help is the Board of Elders; they work with the pastor.
When Paul directs pastors to build up the members of Christ’s body, equipping them for service, he gives them an aim with the small but powerful word: until we all reach the goal; until this finally takes place. The preparing is for the purpose of reaching the goal.
There are two aims or goals. The first concerns unity, and the second, maturity.
Baptism into the one Christian faith leads to unity in conviction and service. The pastor’s task is to help maintain unity in the faith through agreement in the Gospel, the many facets of Christian doctrine, and in a common practice. He aims at unity in the knowledge of the Son of God—an intimate knowing that brings the joy of life eternal.
The pastor also aims at maturity. All Christians are given all that Christ has to give. But not everyone matures at the same rate, or attains the same level of maturity. Thus the Scriptures speak about people beginning as babes in Christ and maturing in word and deed. The pastor’s task, through the means of grace, is to help you mature to the fullness of Christ so that your thoughts, desires, words, and actions imitate and reflect those of Christ himself. What a task your pastor has!
In the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was going through the rows of beds where wounded soldiers lay. In one particular case as she knelt and cared for a soldier, he looked up into her eyes and said, “You are Christ to me.”
That’s what each of you can be: Christ to somebody else. The pastor is Christ’s agent in bestowing Christ’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. Through these gifts the Lord himself works in you to reach the fullness of Jesus Christ; so that you are Christ to somebody else every day—to your spouse, your kids, the people with whom you work, the neighbors down the block. This is one other way for us to identify the Holy Christian Church.
What does the pastor do? In short, he represents Christ, and works to build up the body of Christ. Amen.